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Lungs in situ

Learning objectives

This study unit will help you learn:

  1. The position of the lungs in the thoracic cavity and their main surface landmarks.
  2. The relations of the lungs with surrounding structures.

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What does it mean in situ? If we were to remove the anterior wall of the thorax without removing or altering any of the structures beneath it, we would see the lungs in their original place, or in situ. Examining the lungs in situ allows us to appreciate their normal anatomy, topography and relations with other structures of the thorax.

Being located into the pleural cavities, the lungs are related with the mediastinum, diaphragm and bones of the thoracic cage. Hence, each lung has a mediastinal, diaphragmatic and costal surface. Note that the lungs don’t occupy the pleural cavities entirely. Thus, inferiorly and anteriorly there are two potential spaces called pleural recesses to which the pulmonary tissue does not extend (or extends only during a forced inspiration), called the costodiaphragmatic and costomediastinal recesses respectively.

Each lung has an apex and a base, as well as the anterior, posterior and inferior borders. The apices of the lungs project into the thoracic inlet, while the bases rest on their respective hemidiaphragms. Although paired organs, the left and right lungs differ anatomically. The left lung has only two lobes (superior and inferior) separated by the oblique fissure. The right lung has three lobes (superior, middle and inferior), separated by the oblique and horizontal fissures.

The following video tutorial will provide you with a detailed overview of the location, anatomical features and relations of the lungs.

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Browse atlas

Navigate our atlas gallery to learn more about the anatomical landmarks you would see on the lungs in their original location.


Key points about the lungs in situ
Right lung Consists of three lobes: Superior, middle and inferior, separated from each other by the horizontal and oblique fissures, respectively
Left lung Left inferior lobe separated by the oblique fissure from the superior lobe Noticeable cardiac notch, which exposes the pericardium over the apex of heart
Surface projections Apex of lung: ~2.5 cm above the clavicle
Inferior border of lung: 6th rib, 8th rib, and 10th rib
Inferior border of pleura: 8th rib, 10th rib, and 12th rib

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